Sunday, October 1, 2023

Lee Witham Part 1: Covered outdoor courts are just the starting point for reviving squash

‘Pandemic helped me to focus on new ideas to help this great game of squash to bounce back’
By LEE WITHAM (Squash Mad Correspondent)

Yesterday we interviewed Lee Witham, squash coach, inventor, lighting expert and court designer (Company President at ProSportCourt). Today Lee begins a series on Squash Mad devoted to looking at ways to revive the whole squash industry and create massive improvements to the enjoyment and experiences of everyone who sets foot on a squash court.

Over the past 35 years, I have devoted a considerable amount of time to squash, which includes playing, teaching, and managing clubs in Germany, the UK, and the USA. During this time, I have seen every type of club you can imagine, along with the trends coming and going.

Living in Valencia has also allowed me to see the huge growth of padel, a sport with 14,000 courts and six million players here in Spain making it more popular than tennis, and second only to football.

Incidentally, many of the star players at Real Madrid and Barcelona are also enthusiastic about padel, but that’s another story.

In 2013, I became very interested in sustainable building, which led to an interest in LED lighting. Soon after I launched an LED sports lighting business, and just under five years ago I decided to retire from coaching and focus purely on LED Sports Lighting.

During the last couple of years, I have had plenty of time to reflect (due to the pandemic) on the future of racket sports and especially squash.

While squash courts were closed, I decided to take up padel and play on a regular basis. I was naturally drawing comparisons: my go-to squash courts were buried in the basement of a club, while the padel court was in the open air and immediately visible when entering the club.

The indoor-outdoor squash court of the future, with glass walls and a glass floor, housed inside a canopy that allows passers-by to see the action taking place inside

However, small details did grab my attention. I noticed the courts were less busy during the middle of the day when the sun was at its strongest, and it was obvious that the outdoor courts really could have benefited from some kind of sun protection.

While mulling over these issues, this led me to address the question: why not play covered squash outdoors?

Interestingly, along came the outdoor steel court in New York, a multi-court project in El Salvador (with very low side walls), and a covered installation in Israel. It seemed I was not alone in valuing the idea of outdoor squash, though all projects varied greatly in ideas and pricing.

After 18 months of R&D we have launched Squash+, a glass prototype squash court with a non-slip glass floor.

The court is protected with a polycarbonate canopy with steel supports. It also includes an adjustable height tin and colour-coordinated court markings. For the evening hours, it offers premium quality LED lighting. Importantly, we believe the outdoor court strikes the happy medium in terms of price and quality with a new, dynamic look.

Designing such a high-quality court in such a short time is never easy. We are fortunate to have a team with valuable knowledge of industrial materials, design, and structural engineering. A special thank you goes to Adrian Blakemore for his many hours of research, along with project managers Fernando Cerro Sampedro and Santiago Cañamero Morato of Portico Sport.

Fernando Cerro Sampedro (left) and Santiago Cañamero Morato from Portico Sport

The objective is to make squash more visible to the public and give the squash court a brand-new look, using innovative, sustainable materials and engineering know-how. Primarily, the aim is to provide a viable and affordable option for racket clubs and leisure centres, in addition to schools and colleges around the world.

During the pandemic, the introduction of padel and pickleball provided a huge wake-up call for all racket sports. Both of these games have taken a fresh new look, allowing a wide demographic to enjoy life on the courts, which also deliver the extra health benefits of playing outdoors.

There’s been plenty of doom and gloom around the squash world as playing numbers have fallen. Bashing Squash has become quite the trend. To be clear, we need solutions, and we need them now. I have leaned on my time in squash to evaluate what went wrong and what needs to be accomplished. I have focused on the following subjects:

The benefits of racket sports movement
Encouraging young players and retaining senior players
Changing our view of competition in sports
Payment terms
Smart and sustainable building

In the coming days, I look forward to sharing numerous ideas about solving problems in all these areas and much, much more.

Please stay tuned to Squash Mad and share these articles with friends far and wide.

Tomorrow: Lee Witham on The Benefits of Racket Sports Movement

Pictures courtesy of Lee Witham and Portico Sports


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